I sense that the church is in the midst of a serious, but potentially transforming, identity crisis. Several observations have led me to this conclusion. On one hand, I see a church that appears to have forgotten their roots in a fallen humanity and their familial connection to the lost, the disenfranchised, and the confused. Christ has become the means of obtaining personal blessing and prosperity, hell-fire insurance, a squeaky-clean church environment and the affirmation of our right to riches, second homes, and vacations in Europe. In my case, the right to own forty pairs of shoes. We have forgotten that our blessings are for the sake of blessing others. They are not primarily for our personal consumption. There is nothing that we have that is not pure gift.
I also see a segment of the church that holds a Jesus that is insipid and powerless, like a bearded guru in Birkenstocks singing Kumbaya. This Jesus makes no demands for personal or corporate holiness. There is no vision of this Jesus as the Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. This Jesus looks lovingly upon all but is powerless to do anything about their condition.
It is of great significance that the first commandment states the prohibition against having any other gods besides the Lord. The creating of God in our own image and according to our own preferences, both cultural and personal, is a constant danger for the church and a severe impediment for our growth in holiness and maturity. The sin of idolatry is alive and well in all sections of the church and it must be put off if we are truly to become the face, hands, feet, and heart of Christ in this fallen but ever-precious world.
The experience of losing my identity and a healthy sense of who I was as a beloved child of God began in earnest when I was 17. I gave birth to a daughter out-of-wedlock. I know what it feels like to be marginalized by the church and by society, to be “one of those.” According to the word of God, we are all “one of those” and we become judgmental, self-righteous and lacking in humility when we forget that we are all birthed from the seed of Adam. Is there a person, a group or a particular sin pattern that you consider to be “one of those”? Have you marginalized anyone? As a church, we are not given that prerogative. God alone knows the state of anyone’s heart and He alone knows the end of a thing. God alone is the judge and He alone can make an accurate assessment of anyone’s motives, even our own. Only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin and only Christ can make atonement for it. We are not called to do the work of the Trinity. Such is the sin of presumption. We are called to walk humbly before our God and each other knowing that our calling is simply to be Christ and show forth Christ to all people, not an insipid, powerless Christ but a holy, powerful, merciful, just and loving Christ.
I have two adopted children and both my son and daughter struggle with just how they fit into their respective families, the one that birthed them and the one that adopted them. From my perspective, the identity crisis we face in the church has some parallels to that situation. On one hand, we Christians accept that we have been adopted into the family of God with all the rights and privileges that heavenly citizenship grants. However, I think we can forget that membership in that family comes with responsibilities. We are our brother’s keeper and we cannot ever lose the sacred bond that ties each and every one of us together as a matter of birth. Being born again does not mean that we lose our humanity any more than my children by adoption lose their connection to the family that gave them birth. It would be very unhealthy for them to do that and would be a denial of reality.
We are called to embrace two citizenships and to walk them out with our feet planted firmly on the earth. Much in Christianity calls for the balancing of seemingly contradictory facts. It is tempting to throw off one demand for the sake of another, selecting whichever of the two has more personal appeal. Such is the case with the seeming tension between mercy and judgment or between our earthly citizenship and our heavenly citizenship. We must not do that. That is the call of maturity. Teen-agers are often the most judgmental and critical group one can find. That is appropriate to their age. It is not appropriate for a mature Christian. We all must learn to hold things in balance, to walk with integrity in that place where it all lines up into One, that One being the person and character of Jesus the Christ. Through the power and the mercy of God may we learn to accurately present the Lord and Creator of the universe to a lost and fallen world for apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Ann Fedeli is the newly-published author of, Any Skeletons in the Closet? An Adoption Memoir, available through Tate Publishing. She blogs regularly and focuses on issues related to adoption, foster care, living with cancer and personal growth and holiness. Ms. Fedeli lives in Rockville, MD.